Kansas case filed; Florida case likely
CLEARWATER, Florida; TOPEKA, Kansas––A lawsuit filed on September 21, 2018 against the Kansas Department for Children & Families and the nonprofit child fostering agency KVC Behavioral Healthcare by survivors of foster child Piper Dunbar, age 2, killed by two pit bulls in 2016, may presage a case in development against the multiple agencies in Clearwater, Florida, that left seven-month-old Khloe Williams in proximity to the pit bull who killed her on October 5, 2018.
ANIMALS 24-7 in 2016 extensively reported about Piper Dunbar’s death, details of which are also summarized below: see Repeal of pit bull bylaw contributes to death of two-year-old.
In the Williams case, said the victim’s mother, Shavon Grossman, 34, through attorney Nioti Koulianos, “Multiple agencies were tasked with the care of the child, including the Florida Department of Children and Families. Khloe’s tragic death could have and should have been avoided, and was the direct result of inexcusable neglect.”
“I want answers and I want justice,” Grossman told Gabrielle Shirley of WFLA, News Channel 8. “I want someone held accountable because I do not want this to happen to another baby.
“Supposed to be protecting her & what happened?”
“At one o’clock, she was with me and she was smiling and she was happy,” Grossman continued, “and then I get told that at 2 o’clock she was mauled by the dog. Where were these people to stop this? Where? They didn’t see this? They didn’t hear my baby cry? They’re supposed to be protecting her from me, and what happened?”
Grossman has said several times that she had never seen the dog who killed Khloe, and was unaware that a dog was in the foster home.
Said Koulianos, “We’re here to ensure that the mother’s rights aren’t infringed upon any more than they already have been. We are here to ensure that nothing like this happens again to another child.
“The attack was severe to the point where we’re probably going to have a closed casket. The mother is not going to be able to see her baby’s face ever again,” Koulianos emphasized.
Infants typically begin to crawl between seven and ten months of age, but Khloe Williams had just come into that age range, and was not yet crawling, Grossman has repeatedly told media.
“She’s not even big enough to walk or crawl or anything, to even be able to mess with a dog. I don’t understand how she was even around a dog that could do this,” Grossman said the night of the attack.
Reported Jorden Bowen of Fox 13 News, “According to information obtained from Eckerd Connects, the foster agency, the dog was never evaluated for its temperament,” before Kloe Williams was left at the home, “and the home was never inspected to determine if it was safe for the child, because it is not required by law. Instead, Florida only requires the screening of the foster family’s home and pets, not relatives’ pets.
Fostered by police family
“A Clearwater Police Department detective,” Jonathan Maser, “was the licensed foster parent” for Williams,” Bowen revealed earlier, but Jonathan Maser was not at the home when the pit bull attack occurred.
“At the time of the attack,” Bowen recounted, “Maser’s parents were babysitting Khloe at their home.”
Grossman told Tampa Bay Times reporters Kathryn Varn and Langston Taylor, they wrote, that “She had visited with Khloe from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.” on October 5, the day of the fatal attack, “before a caseworker took her back to the foster family.
“Why she was taken to Maser’s parents’ home, instead of [Jonathan Maser’s] home is unclear. Maser’s mother was home at the time with Lynnie,” the killer pit bull, Varn and Taylor continued.
Killer dog came from county shelter
Pinellas County Animal Services director Doug Brightwell acknowledged that the agency had rehomed Lynnie to Jonathan Maser’s father, retired Clearwater deputy police chief Paul Maser, in March 2018.
“Khloe was removed from Grossman’s care on May 15, 2018,” reported Varn and Taylor, “because Grossman was not following her case plan, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, which handles child protective investigations in the county.”
Specifically, Grossman had not found stable housing arrangements.
“A Door of Hope, an organization that connects foster children to Christian homes, placed her in Maser’s home,” Varn and Taylor summarized.
Grossman acknowledged that she is voluntarily enrolled in a drug treatment program.
“Criminal records show she has been convicted for charges including drug possession and sale, prostitution and grand theft. A methamphetamine possession arrest from August is still working through the court system,” Varn and Langston said.
“She does have a record. She’s not a saint by any means,” agreed Koulianos.
However, Koulianos told Varn and Langston, “She was getting her life together, and she was voluntarily in treatment, and her daughter was in a safe home,” with Grossman’s sister, who has several children of her own, when the victim was taken away and placed in foster care.
“Did not show aggression”
“We evaluate all animals that go through our adoption program for aggression toward food, for toys and treats, with people and with other animals and [Lynnie] did not show any signs of aggression through any of those assessments,” Brightwell told Melissa Machado of ABC Action News.
Added Brightwell to Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times, “This is the first fatality we’ve had in this county from an animal attack in quite a number of years.”
Five children killed in three-county Tampa area
The most recent Pinellas County fatality, Jasmine Dillashaw, 18 days old, was in June 2000 briefly left alone in a swing with a 90-pound German shepherd mix and a 50-pound Labrador/pit bull mix while her mother, Nicole Dillashaw, 20, warmed a bottle for her, relatives and St. Petersburg police spokesperson Rick Stelljes told media soon afterward.
But there have been several more recent dog attack fatalities in adjacent Pasco and Hillsborough counties, only minutes from Pinellas County.
Among the victims were Dallas Lee Walters, 20 months old, killed at Moon Lake by a Rottweiler in 2009; Thomas James Carter Jr., seven months old, killed in New Port Richey by a pit bull in 2010; and Logan Sheppard, four years old, killed by a pit bull in Riverview in 2014.
The administrator of Piper Dunbar’s estate and her mother, Stephanie Rhoads, on September 21, 2018 sued the Kansas Department for Children & Families (DCF) and KVC Behavioral Healthcare in federal court, seeking a jury trial and damages in excess of $75,000, reported Tim Potter of the Wichita Eagle and Cecelia Jenkins of WIBW television in Topeka.
Why the case was filed in federal court is unclear.
The lawsuit alleges, Potter summarized, that “The state agency and the foster care contractor put the girl back into the same unsafe home from which she had been removed,” with her father and Rhoads’ ex-husband Donnie Dunbar, “and both should have known that two vicious dogs with a history of previous attacks were kept at the same address.
Father was in prison
“In 2015,” Potter continued, “Piper went into Department of Children & Families’ custody after the child protection system found that the people living at her home and the overall conditions made it ‘an unfit and unsafe place.’ Her father, Donald Dunbar,” who “had a long history of drug and theft convictions,” was in state prison from at least 2015 until mid-2016.
When Dunbar was released from prison, however, according to Potter’s summary of the lawsuit, “the Kansas Department for Children & Families (DCF) and KVC Behavioral Healthcare ‘negligently proposed reintegration’ of Piper and her father by placing her in his custody — despite his criminal history.
“Same home previously found to be unfit”
“So around Aug. 22, 2016 — about a month before her death — Piper was allowed to live with her father in ‘the same location that previously had been determined to be an unfit environment for the safety and well-being’” of the victim, even though “Basically the same individuals” were there, living in the same conditions.
One of the residents of the house was Margaret Jaramillo, believed to have previously been known as Margaret Johnson. Facebook photos show Margaret Johnson with one pit bull in 2013 and James Brook Johnson, believed to be her former husband, with pit bulls in 2013 and 2014.
Pit bulls had attack history
Piper Dunbar’s home with her father, wrote Potter, “was also home to two large pit bulls who allegedly belonged to a woman living at the same address.”
Donnie Dunbar, alleges the lawsuit, “knew, or should have known, that each of these pit bulls was extremely vicious/dangerous with a repeated history of prior attacks and vicious behavior towards other animals and people.”
Further, the Kansas Department for Children & Families (DCF) and KVC Behavioral Healthcare also knew or should have known that the dogs “posed an immediate and serious threat to the safety” of the girl, according to Potter’s summary of the case.
“Dogs from hell, dude”
Donnie Dunbar told WIBW News Radio soon after Piper Dunbar’s death that he and Jaramillo had at some point tried to leave the pit bulls with acquaintances at another address, but that they were asked to reclaim the pit bulls soon afterward.
Said Donnie Dunbar at the time, “These were dogs from hell, dude.”
At least one photo of Piper Dunbar taken shortly before her death appeared to show facial injuries, including a gash above her nose and an apparent puncture wound on her chin, which might have resulted from a previous dog attack.
A person named Glenda Wright, claiming to be Piper Dunbar’s aunt, on September 29, 2016 told ANIMALS 24-7 that “The scratch she has on her face [in the photograph] was from an accident,” but did not specify what sort of accident. No one named either “Glenda” or “Wright” was named among the relatives mentioned in Piper Dunbar’s online obituary.
Technically Piper Dunbar was the first human fatality in Topeka since the city of Topeka in 2010 repealed a breed-specific ordinance banning the ownership, keeping or harboring of pit bulls who had not been licensed and microchipped.
The December 13, 2012 death of Savannah Edwards, also age two when fatally mauled, occurred in an unincorporated part of Shawnee County, of which Topeka is the county seat. The Topeka ordinance had not covered the unincorporated suburbs.
However, the amended ordinance allowed the Helping Hands Humane Society, which held the Topeka animal control sheltering contract, to rehome markedly more pit bulls, not only within Topeka proper but also in the unincorporated suburbs.
Edwards was killed by a recently “rescued” pit bull belonging to a tenant of a home she had visited with her mother.
Neighbors believed the pit bull had come from a local rescue or shelter, but the rescue or shelter was not identified by law enforcement. Inquiries by ANIMALS 24-7 and other media to rescues and shelters that might have been involved brought only denials of involvement.